HuaweiUniversity-industry collaboration needs to be at the heart of global economic recovery

University-industry collaboration needs to be at the heart of global economic recovery

Strong partnerships will ensure that research benefits economies and brings value to local communities

Research and innovation proved their value during the pandemic. From promising vaccine candidates to the technology that allowed workforces to move online, universities and businesses showed that those with strong research and development bases were able to make a difference in the world.

This expertise will be even more important as countries rebuild. Universities and industry will need to collaborate to pool resources, according to the many experts who took part in a series of roundtables and salons, held in partnership between Times Higher Education and technology company Huawei.

New technologies will drive economic recovery
Universities “cannot fulfil their limitless potential without collaboration – collaboration between institutions, with industry and across borders”, wrote THE chief knowledge officer Phil Baty in a new report on university-industry collaboration. “In particular, partnerships between universities and industry will be vital as nations seek to rebuild their economies after the devastation of the pandemic – reskilling the workforce and rebooting the knowledge economy.”

Breakthroughs in 5G, artificial intelligence and machine learning were waiting in the wings before Covid-19. They will now be able to bolster economic recovery in sectors such as retail and health, said participants in a roundtable entitled “Driving innovation in research with 5G, AI and machine learning”, with keynote speaker Rahim Tafazolli, regius professor at the University of Surrey.

University-industry collaboration to lay the groundwork for innovation
Technology companies, and their investment in R&D, are driving progress. According to a 2018 report by Strategy&, a division of consulting firm PwC, Alphabet had the highest expenditure dedicated to R&D, at $16.2 billion (£12.11 billion), much of which went to universities. In 2019, Huawei announced that it had increased its R&D investment from $13.6 billion to $19.5 billion and is set to invest an additional $100 billion in R&D over the next five years.

According to the THE University Industry Collaboration report, Huawei co-authored more than 3,200 academic publications between 2015 and 2019, and collaborated with just over 1,000 institutions.

Earlier this year, Huawei vice-president Victor Zhang announced a new five-year strategic partnership with Imperial College London to develop an innovation hub. The partnership would be a model for “connecting the digital ecosystem across academic and business”, Zhang said at the recent THE-Huawei UK Academic Salon 2020. Academia and business must collaborate to enhance the social value of such innovations.

The UK, for example, has a strong research base and a wealth of talent, which will be vital for the country as it rebuilds after the pandemic. But if it wants to do this sustainably and in a way that benefits the whole country, then all actors in the system – national and local government, cities, universities and businesses – need to work towards a shared vision of the future, said panellists on a roundtable entitled “Integrating the UK’s industrial strategy with research and development targets”. The roundtable featured keynote speaker Sam Gyimah, former minister of state for universities, science, research and innovation.

Sharing the benefits of research
Panellists on another roundtable, “Empowering civic universities with R&D”, heard from keynote speaker Diana Beech, CEO of London Higher. The attendees noted that R&D can form the foundation of universities’ civic strategies. In defining its civic agenda, a university should look at its local area – and the wider region – and the challenges within it, participants said. This is particularly relevant as countries look to rebuild their economies after the devastating Covid-19 pandemic.

There will be very real fiscal constraints in the Covid-19 recovery period that could hamper R&D efforts. Universities must collectively make a case for the role they can play in their countries’ recoveries, panellists said. In large part, that will involve showing their value to local communities. In creating civic research hubs, universities must keep the benefits for the public in mind and should be receptive to ideas sparked in the community.

Growing the next generation of researchers
While R&D investment will yield new technologies and ideas, it will also assist in developing the bedrock of any knowledge economy: skilled people, versed in the technologies of the future. “We are now at a tipping point,” Ingobert Veith, director of public policy at Huawei Technologies Deutschland, told the THE-Huawei German Academic Salon 2020. “If you look ahead, we are going to see ICT technologies shifting or changing from a particular purpose to a general-purpose technology. This is a very powerful effect that we are going to see, since it is penetrating all industries.

However, that shift is going to need skilled people, and they are one of the most valuable outputs from industry-university collaborations.

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